Roman challenge for Cristiano and Zidane

The Champions League is back! What it gives and what it takes away, it's where every player worth his salt wants to play. Simply home and away or, as we've seen in the classics, a first-leg then a comeback. One goes through, the other goes out. With our best teams being a class above most, it has led to the group stage feeling almost tedious, too simple. Now there's a different emotion, but this next hurdle still seems easily negociable for Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético. We'll see. For now, we have Madrid in Rome, against a club that has its own tensions. The supporters do not endorse the current American owners. Today there will be vacant seats.

Cristiano appeared before the media. His mood inconsistent. His confidence was magnificent, he joked about “hugs and kisses”, and he eulogized wonderfully about Totti. But he did not shine when responding to Messi’s penalty (the "I know why he did it and I’ll say no more" implies that it was to hand the Pichichi to Luis Suarez, but then surely he’d give all penalties to the Uruguayan) and he got cranky when reminded about how long it had been since he scored away from they Bernabeu. His response was correct though, no one has outscored him in this regard. It’s also true that his recent run has not been good. Today he has the opportunity to put that right.

Roma is the first of the major challenges that Zidane is going to face. As with the Cristiano of today (and perhaps one thing goes with the other) he has brought some formidable results to the Bernabeu but it has been less impressive in their last two away games. With this in mind he must consider the game. When they take to the field, Real Madrid will already know what Barça have achieved in Gijon. If the Catalans win, they'll be almost out of reach in the league. But in the Champions League there are sixteen teams in the same position and one of them is Madrid, with the tone and optimism of Zidane. A Madrid on its game is inferior to no one in Europe.